Some people always seem larger than life, and when they're gone, you almost can't believe it, as if you somehow thought that they'd always be around.
Rena's grandmother passed away this morning, and Safta, as we called her, was certainly one of those people.
Safta and I hit it off right away. I was in love with her eldest granddaughter, and she loved me for it. She was my guardian angel, paving the way for my life together with my beloved wife. Her blessing was everything. Without it, I stood no chance. With it, nothing could stand in our way.
Safta was the quintessential American Jewish grandmother. On one hand, everything about her screamed stereotype, from her New York nasal tone to her perfect make-up to her weekly beauty parlor appointments. But, at the same time, everything about her was anything but typical. In fact, she defied stereotype.
Safta was born into a New York Judaism literally cracking at the seams. Raised in a religious home, while her siblings were and are traditional, none maintained Orthodox practice other than Safta. She was a woman of simple faith, in the most positive meaning of the term. She believed in the all-powerful Creator, and never deviated from that belief. Even in later years when going out to Shul on Shabbat proved challenging, she would spend Shabbat morning first davening and then reading the parshah herself. It was just part of her being. When the doctors told her not to fast, she called me, knowing that she simply had to fast; that was who she was. She wasn't a person of deep philosophical discussions. She left those to her husband. She was a person of action. The were mitzvot for Jews to keep, so she kept them. How many of us can say the same?
Safta was the force that guided her children towards observance, while at the same time devoted and tolerant of a husband who did not share her commitment to Jewish practice, but always honored her devotion to it. I cannot think of a marriage - one that lasted more than six decades - where two people showed such reverence, care and respect for each-other.
Safta was also the glue connecting the different wings of the family. She was the force behind the Chanukah parties that brought everyone together. She just took it for granted that the family needed to light the menorah together. So that's what we did.
One of my fondest Safta memories took place on the first Pesach after we were married. With a new rabbinic son-in-law to impress, before the second Seder Safta decided that she was going to drink four cups of wine during the Seder, and not her normal grape juice. Despite our desperate protests, as the cups of wine compounded, they began to get the best of her. Late into the night, after much singing, prayer and discussion, Savta stuck her hand in the air and shouted, "Wait! I have a question!"
We all waited with baited breath. What issue did she which to discuss? Did a subtle aspect of the Redemption trouble her? Perhaps she wished to ask something about Hallel.
"Yes, Safta, what is it?"
"Why..." she asked, her speech slightly slurred, "do they have to daven so fast in shul? I can hardly keep up!"
When we finished laughing, we returned to the Seder.
But in a nutshell, that was Safta. She left the complicated questions to others. All she ever really wanted to do was pray to God, in the best way she could, and maybe not so fast.